Maurice Drayton is the new Packers Special Teams Coordinator and him and his staff need to elevate that unit for Green Bay.
Are there bigger fish to fry on a football team, such as offense or defense? You bet. Nonetheless, the Packers need to be better, and here are 3 strategies to improve the Packers Special Teams in 2021.
Find a Kick-Returner and Punt Returner:
Last year, the Packers mostly deployed Malik Taylor, Tyler Ervin and Darius Shepherd as their primary kick returners.
Out of kick returners with 9 attempts or more, Taylor finished 3rd to last in the league in return average. Not far behind him was Tyler Ervin, who finished 5th to last and Darius Shepherd, who finished 9th to last.
Compare the Packers return-men last year to the Top 3 kick returners in the NFL in 2020:
The Packers averaged about 19.6 yards per return as a team last year. The Top 3 returners in the league averaged approximately 30.5 yards per return. That’s an 11 yard difference per possession, which is huge.
The solution? Sign Andre Roberts or Cordarrelle Patterson in free agency; both are available. If not that route, the Packers need to find an explosive returner in the draft or discover an undrafted free agent that can bring some juice and speed to the field.
For punt returns, the Packers had the 2nd least amount of returns (11), the least amount of yards (53) and the 2nd lowest average-per-return (4.8). Both return units need to be substantially better in 2021.
Upgrade Punter Position
Alabama graduate and current Packers punter J.K. Scott isn’t awful but Green Bay can do better. Out of players with 20 or more punts last year, Scott ranked 20th out of 34 in Average Yards Punted and 28th out of 34 in Punts-Inside-the-20 yard line.
Kicking a football in Green Bay is difficult when the weather turns but that’s not an excuse for Scott’s mediocre to sub-par results through his career. Rarely has their been complaints about Mason Crosby’s kicks in the cold weather. Good players find a way, others do not.
Scott is under his rookie contract for one more year, so the Packers may have him as their Punter next season. However, if the Packers are looking to improve their Special Teams, their best route is to find a better punter.
Improve Coverage Teams
The Packers allowed 2 punt-returns for touchdowns in 2020, one against the Jaguars and one against the Eagles. That is unacceptable.
In 2020, the Packers opponents only returned punts 17 times against Green Bay’s punt coverage unit, which was the 6th lowest amount of opponent return-attempts in the league (Good Stat).
However, the bad news is that the Packers allowed 291 yards on those 17 attempts, which averages to a Burger King of a Whopper 17.11 yards per return. To put that in perspective, remember, the Packers as a team averaged 4.3 yards per punt return last year. The team that averaged the most yards per return, the Patriots, was at 15.3 yards per return.
In essence, if a team was playing the Packers in 2020, they had a better chance of beating out the #1 special teams unit in the league (Patriots, 15.3 average) because the Packers allowed an average of 17.11 yards per return.
On the kick-off side of things, the stats aren’t much better. Money Mason Crosby can still drill 55 yard field goals and continues to be a sniper but he doesn’t have the leg for touchbacks. The Packers had 45 kick returns against their special teams unit last season, which was the 4th most kick-returns against a team in the NFL. Not surprisingly, the Packers led the league in Total Yards Allowed on those returns.
So, what’s the solution? It’s a tricky one. For starters, a new mindset needs to be created for the coverage units. What that mindset entails will be up to Maurice Drayton but something needs to change. Other solutions include finding someone who can consistently kick the ball into the end zone on kickoffs to ensure touchbacks (The Panthers had 7 returns against them last year compared to the Packers 45).
It’s often said that your Special Teams is a product of your roster. Perhaps the Packers are the outlier? They were 13-3 and the #1 seed in the NFC last season. Outlier or not, the Packers must improve in this area in 2021.——————
Alex grew up in a family of Chicago Bears fans in the suburbs of Chicago but was always a Packers guy. Alex\'s AIM name when he was in elementary/middle school was PackerAlex. He now lives in Nashville, Tennessee and you can follow him on twitter at @Alex_Mayer93.